Elizabethton youth among scholars selected by ETSU to 2026 Roan Class

Published 2:32 pm Friday, February 18, 2022

The Roan Scholars Leadership Program has selected eight high school seniors, including Elijah Smith of Elizabethton for the incoming Roan Class of 2026. Those students will join 24 returning Roan Scholars at East Tennessee State University this fall as part of the prestigious four-year scholarship program.
“This year, we expanded eligibility beyond school nominees to allow high school seniors in the region to apply directly for the Roan,” said program Director Scott Jeffress. “There was great interest in that opportunity, and we interviewed a record number of students during both our regional interviews and Roan Finalist Days. We’re excited about this incoming class and look forward to seeing the ways in which they will make a positive impact on campus and our region.”
“Members of the Roan Class of 2026 have been recognized for their academic, athletic and extracurricular achievements at local, state and national levels. From refereeing youth rec league games and offering free tennis clinics, to volunteering with a local fire department and organizing a student leadership conference, they are serving their communities in countless ways,” he said.
Jeffress said these eight scholars represent the Roan values of leadership, excellence and impact and were selected from among more than 120 nominees and applicants in 27 counties across northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and western North Carolina.
The newest Roan Scholars are:
Zayda Carver (Mitchell High School; Spruce Pine, North Carolina): Carver is enthusiastically committed to helping others. “My whole life has been defined by events in which my attitude and enthusiasm have directly sparked a similar excitement in my peers,” she said. She is heavily involved at both Mitchell High School and in her community, including as president of the student book club, a class junior marshal, Girls State attendee, small group leader and praise team leader at church, rec league referee, and member of both the National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society. “Zayda soaks up knowledge,” said Rachel Hughes, an English-Language Arts teacher at Mitchell High School. “She challenges herself by pushing her own limits of learning, is willing to use constructive criticism to improve and has an innate curiosity.”
Cooper Johnson (West Ridge High School; Kingsport): A student with many varied talents, Johnson is both an All-State Choir member (who also sings with his church choir and musical theatre program) and an All-Conference point guard on his school’s basketball team. He is a student ambassador at West Ridge High School, participates in various clubs and is involved with his church. Talking about leadership, Johnson said, “I want to grow and network with like-minded people. As I better myself I would like to continue to inspire, encourage and make a difference in my community. I’ve realized the importance of understanding who I’m leading and how my actions can affect the people around me.” His high school principal, Dr. Josh Davis, added, “Cooper is the model of self-development … He never sees a situation as an obstacle, but rather an opportunity to strengthen his ability to solve problems.”
Leah Loveday (Northview Academy; Sevierville): Loveday is a gifted musician who has experience in French horn, trumpet, and mellophone, is a competitive conductor, and has served as the head drum major for Northview Academy’s marching band the past two seasons. “My growth mindset amounts to how I thrive,” said Loveday. “The joy I find in others, music, and my growth is who I am – a versatile person seeking to grow.” President of the student government association, valedictorian, and a leader in numerous other organizations Loveday credits her deep appreciation for Appalachia (and her current career path) to her participation in Governor’s School and Smoky Mountain Youth Leadership. Dr. Carolyn Davis, a school counselor at Northview, described her as “one of the most self-driven students I have had the pleasure to work with … She is always seeking new challenges and opportunities to help her achieve her goals (and) is always looking to help others.”
Kyah Powers (Dobyns-Bennett High School; Kingsport): An accomplished musician, Powers has earned All-State honors in band (flute), been part of the national champion Dobyns-Bennett Marching Band and Symphony of the Mountains Youth Orchestra and held multiple key leadership positions in the Highlands Youth Ensemble. She has also been a peer tutor and served with her church youth group on mission trips. “My joy now comes from serving others and being a catalyst for happiness wherever I can,” said Powers. “I want to leave a legacy of compassion and lives changed for the better.” Michele Wright, assistant principal at Sullivan Central Middle and Innovation Academy, added, “She is a fearless leader who pushes others to also be their best … she has a tremendous desire to impact the world in significant ways.”
Elijah Smith (Elizabethton High School; Elizabethton): A self-described “eager public servant,” Smith organized a “Vax by the Tracks” event for his community during the COVID-19 pandemic, helped start and host a podcast on “Doing Good,” offers free tennis clinics for local kids and regularly volunteers in a food ministry kitchen. He is also a varsity tennis player at Elizabethton High School and holds multiple school records in swimming. “Elijah is a team player,” said athletic director Forrest Holt. “(He) impresses me most by his ability to network with adults, community leaders and professionals. He puts himself out there and does not care to get out of (his) comfort zone.” Looking ahead to the next four years, Smith added, “I feel ready to integrate and contribute in an even larger community during my college career, using the skills from (my) transition (from homeschool to high school) to better adjust to the next ones in life.”
Macy Strader (Grainger High School; Rutledge): Strader has a passion for creative writing and is in the process of working with an editor to publish a horror-genre novel. Captain of the Grainger High School cheerleading squad, she has also served as yearbook editor, is vice president of the school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) club, a Health Council Officer and has organized an award-winning leadership conference for students in her county. “Macy is a natural born leader and problem solver,” said Jill Denton, school counselor at Grainger High School; “(her) peers would describe her as motivated, organized and empowering. (She) maintains fairness, promotes a positive work/learning environment and collaborates well with others.” Strader described leadership as being “about trust. You should build a relationship with your team … and build an environment that allows everyone to thrive.”
Braydon White (Chuckey-Doak High School; Greeneville): A strong work ethic and desire to serve others have marked Braydon White’s high school years. “I am the type of person who, once I start something I will see it through,” said White. “I make it my duty to help and be of use any way I can.” White is a member of the National Honor Society at Chuckey-Doak High School, where he has also played football and helps lead service-learning efforts. In the community, he participated in the Chick-Fil-A Leadership Academy for two years, has worked at Food City since he was 14, and volunteers with the local fire department, helping plan and conduct various service projects. Alison Fox, White’s AP English teacher, described him this way: “Braydon’s attitude is always inspirational. He accepts challenges and constructive criticism with an open mind and a desire for growth … This positivity is contagious. Furthermore, he knows when to lead and when to follow, which allows all of his peers to enjoy working with him.”
Natalie White (Twin Springs High School; Nickelsville, Virginia): White serves as captain of the Twin Springs High School forensics team and is a state champion in oratory speech. She is also captain of the varsity cheerleading team, editor of the school yearbook and has earned a black belt in Taekwondo and competed at nationals. Goal oriented and compassionate, she strives to lead with dignity and grace. “I truly feel for those that are struggling or suffering,” said White. “And those emotions inspire and motivate me to do good. My compassion for others is a quality that I am extremely thankful for, as it helps me connect with others and shows them that I care.” Her school counselor, Bridgett Rose-Barnette, described her as “a go-getter (who) uses her skills to inspire others around her,” while Twin Springs teacher Anthony Shipley added “(Natalie) serves as a role model (who) on a daily basis exhibits kindness, thoughtfulness, discipline and motivation.”
About the Roan
“It is extremely gratifying to see the remarkable growth and development of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program over the past two-plus decades. This newest class of Roan Scholars will eventually join the ranks of our 80-plus alumni who are leading and serving throughout our region and around the world,” said Roan Founder Louis H. Gump. “During what has been another challenging year, we are especially grateful to all of our partners in this Roan process – the high schools that identify such outstanding students, our committee members and staff who devote many hours to interviewing and selecting students, and our supporters who generate the resources that support the program. Our extended Roan Family is the reason for our success. None of this would be possible without them.”
The Roan Scholars Leadership Program empowers students to be leaders of excellence who will positively impact the ETSU campus, the region and the world. The Roan scholarship offers four years of unique, out-of-the-classroom experiences and opportunities designed to challenge and inspire students to grow and develop as leaders. The scholarship also includes a financial award for tuition and fees, room and board and books.
The Roan, which is funded primarily by private donations, was established by Gump in 1997. The first class of Roan Scholars entered in 2000. For more information, contact the Roan office at (423) 439-7677 or RoanScholars@etsu.edu, or visit the Roan website at RoanScholars.org.

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